How to Eliminate Ambient Light in a Photography Studio

Understanding the basics of photography is essential for consistently taking great photos. To help understand a little more about these fundamental aspects, photographer Mark Wallace answers a message asking how he was able to create a photo that appeared as if it had been taken in a dark room with one light, when he captured the image in a room lit with natural lighting:

In order to solve the riddle of how Wallace shot a very dark photo in a bright room, you first have to understand how your camera shutter works. The camera shutter consists of two curtains. The curtains open and close to reveal the light sensor, in a similar method to opening and closing the curtain in a theater.

When you press on the shutter release, the first curtain opens to reveal the light source, with the second curtain following behind to hide the light. After which, the curtains reset and wait until the next time the shutter release is pressed. The faster your shutter speed, the smaller the slit (or time) between curtains, with your sync speed being the fastest shutter speed your camera can use with a flash.

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Flash with second curtain covering part of the image.

However, the shutter works slightly different when using a flash. In this case, the first curtain will fully open, the flash will fire, and then the second curtain will begin to close. However, if your shutter speed is too fast,  it will affect the outcome of your images. For instance, if your flash fires when the second curtain is partially over the camera sensor, your image will have a black area where the sensor was covered.

Ambient lighting is all around us.  It can be light from the sun, street lights, or any other lighting you cannot control. In order to remove the ambient lighting all together, you need to start with a few simple basic parameters:

  • Set your ISO as low as possible.
  • Your shutter speed should be as fast as it can go (keeping in mind sync speed limitations).
  • Place your aperture setting to the point where no ambient lighting shows.
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ISO 200, 1/180 of a second, and f/10

Once you have your settings in place, take a sample shot (without your flash) to ensure there is no light visible within the image, and adjust your settings as necessary until your image appears black. When there is nothing visible, it means the only light your camera will capture is what comes from the flash. This technique can be used anywhere to make an area completely dark and allows you to capture only the specific lighting you want to have used.

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